For the second year, we are excited to publish our list of 10 great destination triathlons in the U.S. To be considered a destination race on our list, it must offer either an Olympic or Sprint distance, have stood the test of time, and be in a special venue worthy traveling to from other parts of the globe.
It is a difficult decision process every year, because there are so many great races out there. Some are smaller with a loyal cult following, while others are larger “blockbuster” events with thousands of people. This year, we added two new races, Austin and Lake Lure, and removed two. One thing that all of these races have in common is that they are worthy of a trip, just to do the race. The setting are picturesque, beautiful enough so you may actually be looking at the scenery rather than staring at your triathlon watch!
All of these races fill up quickly, so if you are intrigued, definitely consider registering early. Make sure you arrange for lodging and bike shipping with time to spare.
With no further wait, our ten destination races that you should consider in your race plan are:
St. Anthony’s Triathlon (FL). St. Petersburg, FL, situated on the gulf-side of Florida, hosts a long-running early season race each year. We like keeping this one on our list because so many of the other great races seem to bunch up in the July – September season. The St. Anthony’s Olympic and Sprint both feature swims from Spa Beach in Tampa Bay, with a bike and run course throughout Tampa and St. Petersburg. The course if flat and fast, and the average high this time of year is around 82 degrees, making it a great way to race in some warm weather before summer officially sets in across much of the country. The race will be in its 33nd year, rivalling many of the iconic West Coast races as one of the oldest established, continuous races in the country. Because it is such an early season race, it is known for having a strong field year-in and year-out. You will see a mix of notable pros, top age-groupers, and recreational racers as every gets the lead out and starts the new race season.
Austin Capital of Texas Triathlon (TX). New on our list this year but founded way back in 1991 by some well-connected people from the USA Triathlon community, this race has been going strong ever since. Set in the beautiful capitol city of Texas, it is an urban triathlon but with Austin’s hip vibe. Among other things, we like the urban-esque setting for all three legs of the race, as well as the timing of the race occurring on Memorial Day. That allows this to be one of the only big races in the country that is not run on a Saturday or Sunday. The Austin Triathlon attracts about 3,000 people per year, and offers an Olympic, Sprint, and Super Sprint distance, making this an accessible race for many. For those of you worried about Texas summertime heat, the racetime temp in Austin on Memorial Day is usually a comfy 70 degrees.
Escape from Alcatraz (CA) – San Francisco’s Escape from Alcatraz just might be the USA’s most common aspirational triathlon outside of the Ironman. Triathletes across the country train for months for the Escape’s unique swim and transitions in this hybrid Olympic-distance race that has been going for a whopping 37 years. The race start begins from Alcatraz Island, where swimmers navigate a current and 55 degree water temps (due to the temps, using a wetsuit is mandatory at this race). From there, the bike ride takes racers through the Presidio, with an 8-mile run that routes under the Golden Gate Bridge. Along with the New York City Tri, this is the iconic race to do if you want to be in one of the world’s great cities. The race is capped at 2,000 racers, and it is a competitive draw process to get in, so you might need to keep trying a few times and then be ready to race the year your name is called.
Mountain Man (AZ). Part of our original list, we continue to love the Mountain Man Triathlon. Flagstaff is a gorgeous Arizona town, set at an elevation that boasts much more comfortable summer temperatures than nearby Phoenix. Nearly as old as the Escape from Alcatraz, the Mountain Man has been going strong for 32 years. For those of you looking to challenge yourself with a higher-elevation race, this is the one: You will be racing at about 7,000 feet, the highest of any on this list. Mountain Man typically splits its race dates, doing the Sprint in July with the Olympic and Half Ironman about a month later in August. The course is what you would expect for the Flagstaff area – some good hills, and great scenery. While it is a fast course, both the bike and the run throw a signature hill at you that you will not forget.
Door County Triathlon (WI) – Each July, athletes flock to Door County, near Sturgeon Bay, WI, to take part in the long-running Door County Tri. We love the northwoods races for their scenery, clean air, and ample natural water. The Door County race actually occurs in Egg Harbor, up on the coast of Lake Michigan, The swim taking place in Horseshoe Bay (which is part of the larger Green Bay within Lake Michigan). The bike and run take you through the rolling combination of lakeshore bluffs, woods, and farmland. Door County is a serene place, but summers in Door County get enough big-city weekend traffic to create a very energetic vibe for this event. After the race, enjoy the local villages of Door County, a fish boil, or a state park. For travelers, Door County is a few hours north of the Milwaukee and Chicago area.
New York City Triathlon (NY) – New York City is America’s most iconic metropolis, and the New York City Triathlon boasts a course that is mainly in Manhattan with a brief venture into the Bronx. There are many great urban triathlons – Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, Alcatraz – but this one is special because it is the Big Apple. Swim in the Hudson River (ok, maybe not exactly a pristine Northwoods lake, but it is the historic Hudson), bike along the Hudson up and down the Manhattan riverfront and into the Bronx, and go for a run in Central Park. That is basically a tour of one of the great world cities, all in the midst of a race. This is an Olympic-distance race, but getting in is difficult. The race is typically full well in advance and uses a drawing to determine the slots.
Brewhouse Triathlon (MN). Not all races on our list have to be huge blockbuster events, and the Brewhouse Triathlon is a nice-sized race in a beautiful setting. In early August, the Brewhouse Triathlon provides a one-of-a-kind venue for a triathlon: The beautiful port city of Duluth, the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior, and the Minnesota Northwoods. While there are other great races in Minnesota (such as the Northwoods Tri in Nevis or the Lake Minnetonka Triathlon in Excelsior, both of which usually fill up quickly), we went with the one that has been around for the longest time. The Brewhouse starts in pristine Island Lake Park, takes cyclists through some nicely paved and low-traffic northwoods roads, and ends with a fast run course. After the race, use your race credentials for beer tasting, from local breweries in this town where good local brewing has been around since before it was cool.
Lake Lure Triathlon (NC). New on our list is the Lake Lure Triathlon in beautiful Western North Carolina. It has been running since 2005 as part of the Lake Lure Olympiad, a 3-day active event that also includes a running race and a bike race. You don’t need to do all three, and if you prefer you can “simply” do just the triathlon. It is an Olympic-distance triathlon. Lake Lure’s swim is one of the more picturesque you will ever do, followed by a challenging bike through the Blue Ridge Mountains, followed by a run with some moderate hills. As far as scenery goes, this one is in a great spot. If you are traveling in from other parts of the country, the nearest large city is Asheville, NC, although Charlotte is less than a couple hours away.
Nautica Malibu Triathlon (CA) – We kept this great race on the list this year because there is nothing like doing a race – running, biking, or multi – on the Pacific Coast of Southern California. While there are many great, established races to choose from in Southern California, we singled out the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Within the Los Angeles metro area, the race is close to good airports, plenty of attractions, and lots of hotels. The race boasts and Olympic and Sprint (called the “classic) distance, both having an ocean swim, followed by a bike on the iconic PCH highway and a run with views of the Pacific. A sunny Southern California vibe caps off this landmark race which has a decidedly “beachy” feel to it. The course is not particularly hilly – it doesn’t take you into the nearby mountains – but the views are outstanding and the vibe is very fun.
Lobsterman Triathlon (ME) — Some people know Freeport, ME only as the home of LL Bean. Freeport is a beautiful city of 8,000 perched on the coast of Central Maine, between Portland and Brunswick. If you want a true Northeastern Atlantic Coast experience, this is it. This September race, a repeat nomination, is the only one on our list that boasts a full lobsterbake after the race. The Olympic-distance race is a standard international length, with the swim in Casco Bay, the bike along the Atlantic Ocean, and a run through the village of South Seaport. Because of the water temps, triathlon wetsuits are required in this race. Expect highs in the low 70s and lows around 50, for a nice, late-season race.
There you have it — our 10 favorite triathlons around the country. Are you hooked yet? Of course, for many serious triathletes, their list would be full of Ironman-distance races which are no doubt great as well. However, we think there is value in recognizing those races that are both well-run, iconic, and accessible for someone who simply wants to train for a Sprint or Olympic race. We are here to tell you that a regular distance triathlon, if done right, is every bit as rewarding as a longer race, and as these races demonstrate can allow you to visit interesting and beautiful parts of the country while you are at it!
If you liked this, don’t be afraid to take a look at our other content. We have a full library for you of great triathlon training tips and gear reviews. A couple of the more popular pieces include are article on what to wear in a triathlon, and our new piece on the best entry level triathlon bikes. Both can give you an idea of how to get started in triathlon, and what you will get for the money on various pieces of equipment. Of course, we got our start way back in 2011 by creating swim-and-wetsuit-related content for triathletes of all skill levels, and as back then we are still researching and updating our content on triathlon wetsuit reviews, so don’t miss that either. Finally, we have gotten so many questions over the years on what our favorite triathlon shorts are, that we devoted an entire piece on that. We keep all of these articles fresh and up-to-date, so you can be sure you are reading the latest and most relevant information.
Finally, if you are going to try to tackle one of these great destination races, don’t overlook the training involved! Many of these races, like the Escape from Alcatraz or Mountain Man, are in physically demanding settings. Being well-trained is an important part of the experience. Don’t miss out on our deeply-researched piece on using an indoor bike trainer, and our review of all of the best triathlon training guides on the market today. We will help point you in the right direction for your next race season.
We hope you enjoyed this, and we update this Top 10 list every January 1, so be sure to check back!